If you are
looking for cutting edge commentary on the culture, you have come to
the wrong place. I don’t get out much, and anything I say about a film
is said after it has been released on DVD (Children of Men was the rare exception, and I saw that after it had been out in theatres for weeks).
And so last weekend I rented Pan’s Labyrinth,the critically acclaimed fantasy by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. "Pan’s Labyrinth" is an unfortunate paraphrase; the literal
translation from the Spanish is "The Labyrinth of the Faun", a far more
evocative and accurate title; the filmmaker has stated emphatically the
Pan is not one of his characters.
The tale is
set in 1944, in fascist Spain. The heroine is Ofelia, a young girl of
11 or so, whose widowed mother Carmine has married Captain Vidal, a
fascist leader whose battalion is stalking the resistance that has
persisted in the forest. Carmine is carrying the Captain’s child in her
womb, and as the film opens Ofelia and her mother are on their way to
live at the fascist camp in the woods. Along the way fairy tale-reading
Ofelia encounters a strange sculpture in the forest and a mysterious
insect, which she calls a fairy.
at the camp the insect transforms into a real fairy and leads her to an
ancient labyrinth, which is a portal to the underworld, where she
encouters a faun.
Now, when I say "a faun" you
may think of CS Lewis’ Mr Tumnus, or Disney’s dancing furry children,
but this is quite a different creature. Lewis’ fairy world was a
prettified and genteel English version of pagan myth. Toro’s creatures-
no doubt more accurately- are darker, otherworldly, ambiguous and
dangerous. Even the fairies are carnivores. This faun hails from the
deep Earth, and his bones creak and groan when he moves, like old wood
or stone grinding far underground.
The faun, in
true fairy tale fashion, reveals to the girl that she is a lost
princess, and assigns her three tasks she must accomplish to return to
Captain Vidal proves to be cold and cruel, as much an incarnation of evil as Ophelia is of innocence.
As so the tale unfolds, a classic story of good and evil, skillfully and beautifully rendered. This is filmmaker’s art finely tuned. It was so
visually rich on my small TV screen, I can only imagine how it was on
the big screen.
While this is a fairy tale, it
is not for children: it is dark, often literally as much of the action
takes place at night or in the underground realm. Evil is portrayed
graphically and the violence is brutal. There are creatures that appear
to have arisen from a nightmare and the film is rich in imagery rooted
in mythical and psychological archetype.
isn’t exactly a Christian fable; the faun could no more be called good
or evil than a thunderstorm or a mountain. And the only representative
of the Church that is seen is a profascist cleric shown stuffing his
face as he dismisses the hunger of the poor.
is, however, a profoundly moral and redemptive film, one that touches
the imagination and the heart as deeply as any good fairy tale. In the
truest sense it is more a Christian film than some of the sanctimonious
movies I have seen.